With about eight minutes remaining in the first half of Saturday’s contest at Notre Dame, Syracuse Orange senior point guard Frank Howard checked back into the game for freshman stud Jalen Carey at the one. They both slapped hands so loud that the clap could be heard in the upper level of the Joyce Center.
It was as if Howard was saying good job and as if Carey was passing the figurative point guard baton back to Howard. The senior point guard struggled out of the gate with two missed shots and two turnovers and Notre Dame rushed out to a 10-point lead.
Carey came into the game and sparked a 7-0 run on a sequence that included a lay-up, a steal and an assist that led to an Elijah Hughes three and a pull-up jumper inside the arc. Carey’s series was important in getting Syracuse right back into the game.
With Howard and Carey, it isn’t as much of a push and pull for minutes at the point. It’s more about the two of them working in tandem to make the point guard position the best it can be.
Back at media day prior to the start of the season, Carey made mention that even though Howard was out of practice it was still like he was participating based on the way the senior was being vocal to the team. Howard of course missed the first four games of the season and Carey earned his first start of the year in his absence against UConn. The frosh out of Harlem went on to score a career-high 26-points against the Huskies at Madison Square Garden.
Once Howard returned against Colgate the Suitland native assumed the starting point guard role, but there weren’t any hard feelings from Carey’s end. Carey says Howard is a great point guard and that he just tries to come off the bench and learn from him. He says that if Howard isn’t doing certain things, he’ll just try to come in and pick up where Howard leaves off but at the end of the day it’s good to learn from a senior.
Howard comes off as a natural leader. He’s still getting up to speed after being hampered with his preseason left ankle injury, but he can still speak through his experience at Syracuse. He averaged 14.4 points, 4.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game as a junior last year. This is his fourth season in orange and he’s the only player on the current roster to play in a Final Four.
“That’s definitely like my little brother,” Howard began speaking of Carey. “Coming in you know, he’s a great talent. I had a great first year and I feel like I learned a lot. But I feel like I left a lot on the table that year, just a little more guidance and leadership and stuff could have helped me a little bit. So I wanted to do that for him. Some guys you just clique with. He’s kind of my type of dude. We hang out all the time as well as everyone else. He’s just a guy you want to help and he wants to get better.”
Carey is a tremendous talent — he was widely considered a top-50 recruit in his class and was nominated to play in the Jordan Brand game last April. But college basketball is a transition for most freshmen and the ACC is just one step below the NBA. Carey is more than capable of playing well at this level. He’s proven that already but there’s no substitute for experience.
Jim Boeheim said on Monday’s ACC teleconference that Howard is veteran player and understands what Syracuse needs to do. He filters that down to Carey by being in his ear and encouraging him.
“Jalen really hasn’t played a lot of point guard prior to coming here [Syracuse],” Boeheim said. “So it’s a learning experience for him. He’s very talented. He’s just trying to figure out exactly how to play the position. That’s normal for a freshman who hasn’t played that much point in his basketball career. So I think Frank’s been very helpful for Jalen and will continue to be.”
Carey has made note that Howard is always talking to him during games in between timeouts. Sometimes the freshman admits that he’s hard on himself but Howard will have some words of encouragement to pick him back up. Howard, Carey says, offers advice on how to control the game and to understand time and score.
“One thing he’s always telling me is just control the tempo of the game. At our position that’s what we want to do best. And just know when we’re up, when to use the clock, when not to. When to go, when not to,” Carey said. “Just all the little things. Each game he’s always in my ear. If you notice in huddles he’s always coming up to me just saying little things just to keep me going.”
Howard offered up a similar sentiment.
“Yeah, when you’re that athletic, kind of that fast and stuff on the floor you can almost get going too much or you could not show that as much. It can go either way. I just try to help him learn his tempo now. He’s doing a great job of it,” Howard said.
Carey did a tremendous job of it in the first half of his first ACC game. While Howard is still working back to form, he’s slowly but surely making progress on that front. He’s still finding teammates and passing the ball well but shot just 3-for-9 in South Bend. Boeheim said Howard has been shooting it better in practice though, making shots he was previously missing. He was 2-5 from three on Saturday (his other field goal would have been a three but he had a toe on the line).
After the Notre Dame game Howard said each game feels like his best and he’s not worrying about his numbers and focusing on feel. He said both he and the team are putting the pieces together and he thinks Carey is playing great, too.
“Yeah, I always try to keep him level-headed, you know, and kind of keep him in reality playing behind a senior guard,” Howard stated. “He’s playing great. Sometimes you can go either way. He’s a great player, a great young player. He’s talented. He’s like a sponge trying to soak everything up. He’s a great x-factor for us off the bench.”
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